The results from research done in Germany indicate that a widely used type of medicine for treating heartburn can significantly raise the risk of dementia in elderly patients. The research was featured in the medical journal JAMA Neurology published earlier this month.
The group of drugs are known as proton pump inhibitors and lower the acid levels produced in the stomach. Some of the brands in this group include Prevacid, Nexium and Prilosec.
It's important to note that researchers only found an association between those over 74 years old who took the PPI drugs regularly and had an enhanced risk of developing dementia -- 44 percent. Researchers stopped short of terming it a cause-and-effect relationship.
One of the researchers with Bonn's German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases stated, "To evaluate cause-and-effect relationships between long-term PPI use and possible effects on cognition in the elderly, randomized, prospective clinical trials are needed."
This news is particularly significant since previous research linked dementia with the use of other forms of antacids known as H2 blockers that include popular brands Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet. This link caused many physicians to recommend PPIs to their elderly patients. Many brands of both types are sold over the counter, further complicating the issue.
It's unclear at this early juncture what, if any, effect this could potentially have on the pharmaceutical industry. Certainly, if the products are indeed found to be unsafe, changes could be on the way, at the very least with the labelling, as warnings may need to be added to fully inform elderly consumers and their caretakers of the potential risks.
Source: KHOU, "Popular heartburn drugs linked to risk of dementia," Dennis Thompson, Feb. 16, 2016